Excel in the grace of generous giving
In week four of our REACH series, Pastor Matt explains how we can be encouraged to excel in the grace of generous giving. Second Corinthians 8:6-15 gives us three reasons why:
1. It proves your love
2. He became poor for you
3. Desire isn’t enough
2 Corinthians (The New American Commentary) by David Garland, pages 365-366.
Honest question: Have you ever suffered from too much encouragement in Christ? Me either. Encouragement can seem like a good, but small thing to us. Encouragement is massive. This past week I was having lunch with a brother in our church and near the end of our time I shared with him some reasons why I’ve been feeling down lately. We both had to go, but he wouldn’t let me leave until we scheduled a time a couple days later to go on a walk and during that time he prayed for me and spoke gospel-encouragement over me about my identity as God’s adopted son. It meant the world to me. I can’t get enough of that. Encouragement is massive to me. Encouragement is such an important element of church life that the Bible commands us to encourage one another everyday (Heb. 3:13). There are times for rebuke, but it’s always time for Christians to encourage one another.
And encouragement is where Paul begins our passage this morning. I want to show you the encouragement, but then eventually tell you the point of it. 2 Corinthians 8:7 – “But as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you…” (Note: more likely translation: “in your love for us”). The Corinthians excelled in faith – they had faith that could move mountains – what one scholar calls wonderworking faith. They excelled in speech – probably referring to their Holy Spirit empowered ability to speak in tongues and prophesy. They excelled in knowledge – they had profound spiritual insight to understand the mysteries of God. They excelled in all earnestness – an eagerness to do what is right. They even excelled in their love for the Apostle Paul, with whom they previously had a strained relationship. What an encouraging word – he calls a church he once corrected sharply an excelling church.
Citylight – be encouraged; you’re an excelling church as well. You excel in welcoming warmth. A young family in our church recently shared with me that when they moved to Philly they were wonderfully overwhelmed by the welcoming warmth they experienced first here on a Sunday morning and then in their Citygroup. You excel in welcoming warmth. You excel in love. Pastor Paul was sharing with me this week about the outpouring of love and encouragement he and Shanell experienced when their first adoption fell through and then the five weeks of meals they received when they finally did bring Evie and Joe home. Recently my family joined a crew of young folks in Citylight for one of their Sunday night dinners. What a joy it was to see a packed apartment of mostly very young folks pouring their hearts out in prayer for one another. You excel in love. You excel in earnestness for God’s word – You have a theological backbone in a time when so many are caving to cultural pressure to adjust the gospel and God’s word. And in an age of short attention spans, you all love simply walking slowly through book after book of the Bible. And so many of you excel in doing your vocations to the glory of God and the good of the world. Citylight – you know how to excel. I hope that encourages you.
Now, let’s look at where the Apostle Paul takes that encouragement. 2 Corinthians 8:7 – “But as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you – see that you excel in this act of grace also.” The act of grace Paul is referring to is generous giving to the financial collection for the suffering saints in Jerusalem. In other words, Citylight, just as you excel at everything I just mentioned and more, don’t leave your money out. Just as you excel in applying the gospel to nearly every other area of life, excel in applying the gospel to the grace of generous giving. That brings me to the big idea of our passage this morning: Excel in the grace of generous giving. Of course, the question this raises is “why?”. Why do we have to talk about money? Why can’t we excel in giving our time and talent, why our treasure too? In our passage, the Lord provides us with three incredibly encouraging reasons to excel in the grace of generous giving: 1. It proves your love 2. He became poor for you 3. Desire isn’t enough.
IT PROVES YOUR LOVE
The Apostle Paul begins our passage by encouraging the Corinthian church – and by extension all of us to excel in the grace of generous giving. As we look to the very next verse, we’re reminded that excelling in the grace of generous giving is not a command, but it is a test. 2 Corinthians 8:8 – I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. Excelling in generous giving is not a command, rather, it’s a spiritual stress test for the love in our hearts. The Lord Jesus says something quite similar in Matthew 6:21 – “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Financial generosity is a spiritual heart stress test! A literal stress test is a medical procedure that shows how your heart works during physical activity. Since exercise makes your heart pump harder and faster, an exercise stress test can reveal problems with blood flow within your heart. A stress test shows how well one’s heart is functioning. Similarly, Paul says that excelling in the grace of generous financial giving is a spiritual stress test. The Corinthians’ financial generosity toward the suffering saints in Jerusalem would reveal if their love for Christ and others was genuine, or just a matter of talk.
Citylight – when it comes to excelling in the grace of generosity toward your church through The Reach Initiative, your pastors and I refuse to twist your arms, manipulate your hearts, or domineer over your wallets. That simply would not be right. Excelling in the grace of generous giving is not a command, rather it’s a stress test. It’s a stress test that proves the genuineness of your love for Christ, his church, and our region. Generous giving to the advance of the gospel through your local church proves your love for Christ. After all, Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, he’s the Senior Pastor of Citylight Church. Citylight is his body and bride. Therefore, your generosity toward your church proves the genuineness of your love for Christ. Your generosity also proves your love for your local church – we are family and because we love one another as family, we provide for one another’s needs. We need a place to gather for God’s glory for years to come. Your generosity proves your love for Christ and his church. But your above and beyond generosity toward Citylight, your local church, in this particular season also proves the genuineness of your love for the gospel being proclaimed in this region long into the future through a long-term facility. Friends – excel in the grace of generous giving not because it’s commanded, but because excelling in the grace of generous giving is a stress test that proves your love. Ok – let’s begin to take this personally. Question: do your current plans for your generosity commitment to your church over the next two years prove the genuineness of your love for Christ, his church, and our region, or call it into question? Excelling in the grace of generous giving is a spiritual stress test that I pray you’ll pass, giving yourself first to the Lord, and then letting your finances follow. It proves your love. Secondly, excel in the grace of generous giving because…
HE BECAME POOR FOR YOU
After hearing that excelling in the grace of generous giving is a stress test on our love, we might be tempted to do a little too much heart introspection. Thankfully, the Apostle Paul lifts our eyes directly to Christ. The Lord Jesus is our ultimate model and motivation for excelling in generous giving. Generous giving may prove your love, but only Christ can place true generosity into your heart. 2 Corinthians 8:9 – For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. The generosity of the Lord Jesus Christ is both our ultimate model and motivation for excelling in the grace of generous giving. Let’s look closely at the generosity of Christ. The phrase “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” beautifully summarizes God’s loving action toward a sinful world in rebellion against Him. God so loved the world that he gave! He gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. What is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ? He was rich, yet for our sake he became poor, so that we by his poverty might become rich. The fourth century church father Gregory of Nazianzus beautifully captures Paul’s thought, “Christ was made poor that we through His poverty might be rich. He took the form of a servant that we might regain liberty. He descended that we might be exalted. He was tempted that we might overcome. He was despised that He might fill us with glory. He died that we might be saved. He ascended, to draw to Himself those lying prostrate on the ground through sin’s stumblingblock.”
Citylight – the Lord Jesus Christ was unspeakably rich. He left the infinite wealth of heaven where the heavenly angels never ceased to worship Him. He emptied himself of all his divine rights to take on human flesh. He experienced the poverty of being mocked, misunderstood, wrongfully accused, relentlessly tempted, mercilessly beaten, and crucified. And he did all of it for our sake. For our sake he became poor. He experienced the ultimate poverty of taking our infinite debt of sin and paying it in full when he died for it on the cross. Through his poverty we have received unspeakable wealth. The Son of God was crucified so that through him we can be called the sons and daughters of God by grace. The Son of God took our curse on the cross so that we are free from the penalty of sin. The Son of God was condemned in our place so that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The Son of God was betrayed by his very own people so that we can be brought into his family the church and never be alone. We know the grace and poverty of our Lord Jesus Christ that has made us rich, and yet we don’t even know the half of it. As Athanasius once wrote, “He became what we are that we might become what he is.” Through Christ’s poverty, we have the true wealth of being the adopted children of God.
Question: Is the generosity of Christ both your motivation and model as you prepare for March 6? By his poverty we have become rich so that we can excel in the grace of generous giving. Yes, financial generosity is a spiritual stress test. But a stress test cannot put love or generosity into our hearts. Only the generosity of the Lord Jesus Christ revealed in the gospel can do that. Look to Him as your model and for motivation. Excel in the grace of generous giving, secondly, because he became poor for you. Finally, excel in the grace of generous giving because…
DESIRE ISN’T ENOUGH
2 Corinthians 8:10-11 – “And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have.” The Corinthians made known to Paul their desire to excel in the grace of generous giving. Paul is grateful, but careful because when it comes to excelling in the grace of generous giving, desire isn’t enough. There was a time when I wanted to excel at running a marathon – and by excel I mean finish one marathon, which I did. In the process of preparing to run a marathon, I learned the hard truth that when it comes to completing a marathon, desire isn’t enough. You have to take action and start somewhere. Similarly, excelling in the grace of generous giving is not ultimately a matter of talk or intention. It’s a matter of Jesus’ generosity in the gospel first capturing our hearts and then moving our hands to action.
This all raises an important question. If excelling in the grace of generous giving takes action, where should we start? In his excellent book The Treasure Principle: Unlocking the Secret of Joyful Giving, Randy Alcorn writes that a great place to start is where the Lord started with his Old Covenant or Old Testament children. Leviticus 27:30 – Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the LORD’s; it is holy to the LORD. Also, Malachi 3:8-10 – Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.The word tithe means “tenth.” In the OT, everyone gave a tenth back to God. There were free will offerings too, but a tenth of the first fruits was mandatory. This may surprise you, but as New Covenant believers, we are no longer under the law of Moses, which includes laws about tithing. Giving a tenth of your first fruits, your pre-tax income is not mandatory under the New Covenant. However, as followers of Jesus, we are recipients of a greater covenant than God’s children in the old covenant and, therefore, we should probably be more generous than they were. After all, Randy Alcorn points out that every example of New Testament giving goes beyond the tithe. Nevertheless, since desire isn’t enough, the tithe is a helpful principle for taking action. Objection: I can’t afford it. Answer: “Can’t” probably isn’t the right way to describe it. How many of you would starve if you lived on 90% of your income? When it comes to excelling in the grace of generous giving, tithing is a great way to go beyond desire and start taking action. For many of you, you’ll excel well beyond the tithe over the next two years.
Generosity brings joy, but desire isn’t enough. We have to take action. And we can take action because the gospel is the good news that God went beyond desire and good intentions to save us. To excel in generous giving we need so much more than desire if we’re going to put our money where our heart is. We will need nothing less than the gospel of Jesus Christ. After all, the gospel is not about God’s good intentions to save us. The gospel is the wonderful news that God has looked upon our sinfulness and the eternal judgment that we deserve and has matched his love with action: He gave his Son who became poor so that we by his poverty might become eternally rich. His desire was matched by his overwhelming act of grace in Christ. May we be so overwhelmed by such grace that we excel in the grace of generous giving as well.